After their fourth loss in five games, the Pittsburgh Steelers are on the fringe of the playoff picture. It’s time to have a conversation about Mike Tomlin.
The NFL is a results business. If Roosevelt Nix gets another three feet, Mike Tomlin is a genius. Nix didn’t get those 36 inches, so Tomlin is no genius. He’s a goat.
The 31-28 loss by the Steelers in New Orleans means Baltimore controls the AFC North with one week remaining. If the Ravens beat Cleveland in Baltimore or Pittsburgh loses its finale against Cincinnati, the Steelers head home after starting 7-2-1. It’s unacceptable in any city. In Pittsburgh, it’s an unthinkable collapse.
On Sunday, the same mistakes continued for the Steelers. In the third quarter, the Steelers didn’t run the ball once. This continued a trend that began in Denver five games ago. Since that tilt, Pittsburgh has called 268 plays in those four losses. The balance? A whopping 198 pass plays against 70 runs. Pittsburgh has passed 74 percent of the time in those losses even though there has been no apparent reason for it. Pittsburgh trailed by more than one score on only a single drive in those four games.
There are also the eight turnovers in that span. Factor in the absurd fake punt in New Orleans with the constant off-field drama and it’s time for a change.
The Steelers are notorious for being patient with only three head coaches since 1969. That trait has largely been to their benefit. Tomlin has been in the big chair since 2007 and his tenure has been excellent. A Super Bowl win, a second Super Bowl appearance and six AFC North titles.
Unfortunately for Tomlin and the Steelers, all of that is history. The present showcases a picture of continued mistakes and an underachieving roster.
However, it’s good timing for both parties.
The Steelers have a replacement waiting for them in Mike McCarthy. McCarthy, 55, is a Pittsburgh native who is steeped in offensive scheme. While things went sour for McCarthy in Green Bay, a fresh start with the Steelers could be the right tonic for coach and franchise.
As for Tomlin, Tampa Bay makes complete sense. The Buccaneers are going to move on from Dirk Koetter following Week 17, and Tomlin has a long history in Tampa. Tomlin was a defensive assistant there from 2001-05 before leaving to take the Vikings defensive coordinator job for a year. After that, it was on to Pittsburgh.
Additionally, the Buccaneers need a new voice in hopes of extracting the talent out of Jameis Winston. Tomlin has long enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Ben Roethlisberger and could form a nice duo with Winston. If nothing else, he would command respect in a way that none of Winston’s previous head coaches have.
How bad does Winston need a savior? Over the last four years, both he and Blake Bortles have committed 75 turnovers. Winston did so on 242 fewer pass attempts and 40 less carries.
Moving on from Tomlin isn’t about him not being able to coach anymore. It’s about seeing the plain facts. The team needs a new voice, just as Green Bay needed to move on from McCarthy. There’s no shame in that.
In the NFL, results are the end game. For years, the Steelers have failed to reach their potential by either missing the playoffs entirely or being beaten once there.
It’s time for the Steelers, and Tomlin, to move on.
Top 10 coaches on the hot seat right now (interims excluded)
1. Todd Bowles, New York Jets
2. Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos
4. Steve Wilks, Arizona Cardinals
5. Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
6. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
7. Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins
8. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
9. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
10. Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
“We can’t afford to take a week off. That’s not even an option. We’ve got to attack this week the same way we’ve been attacking … and finish this season off right.”
– Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott on playing in Week 17
The Cowboys can’t earn a first-round bye, with the Rams and Saints locking those up. However, Dallas is going to keep their starters going in hopes of maintaining momentum prior to the playoffs. It’s a dangerous strategy with the Cowboys risking the health of starters, but we’ve seen this work before.
In 2007, the Giants could have played their backups in a meaningless Week 17 game against New England but elected to roll with the starters. New York lost to the undefeated Patriots but gained confidence, something they utilized in Super Bowl XLII.
The Packers are missing out on postseason play for the second consecutive year. The last time that happened was 2005-06. Only the Patriots have a longer such streak, not having missed the playoffs two years straight since 1999-2000.
Info learned this week
1. AFC remains largely uncertain going to Week 17
The AFC has four certain participants in the playoffs. None of the seeds have been locked down, though.
Kansas City and Los Angeles both lost, keeping the Chiefs in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage. With Andy Reid’s team hosting the Raiders on Sunday, it’s likely they wrap things up. Should that happen, the Chargers would be affixed to the fifth seed.
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Beneath Kansas City, things were shaken up over the weekend. As mentioned, the Ravens took over the AFC North lead. The Texans also have to be kicking themselves after losing to the Eagles. Houston relinquished the second seed with the Patriots beating Buffalo. Both those teams likely stay where they are considering New England hosts the Jets to end the regular season.
On Sunday night, the sixth seed will be determined with the Colts visiting the Titans. Whoever wins is guaranteed a spot (the division could be clinched by the Texans beating Jacksonville) while the loser goes home.
2. NFC playoff picture remains unclear
A few things happened in Week 16. The Rams beat the Cardinals to stop its ugly two-game losing streak. However, with the Bears getting by the 49ers, Los Angeles and Chicago both have to play hard in Week 17 with a chance at the bye week.
On the more certain side, the Saints earned home-field advantage by beating Pittsburgh. The Cowboys defeated the Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium, clinching the NFC East. Dallas will be the fourth seed but its opponent remains an uncertainty.
In the wild card race, the Seahawks punched their ticket with a win over Kansas City while the Vikings remain in control of the sixth seed. Minnesota hammered the Lions after a slow start, but the Eagles are only a half-game back after winning over the Texans on a last-second field goal from Jake Elliott. Philadelphia is the only team remaining in the hunt, making Week 17 very easy to parse.
If Minnesota wins over Chicago, it’s in and the Bears are the third seed. Should Chicago win, the Eagles are in as a wild card with a win over the Redskins, while the Rams would need to beat the 49ers to earn a first-round bye.
3. Final home game in Oakland?
On Monday night, a football game and a funeral will simultaneously take place.
The Raiders are playing host to the Broncos in what could be the final game in Oakland. With the team being sued for damages by the City of Oakland, the Raiders are threatening to play elsewhere in 2019 before permanently moving to Las Vegas in 2020. All of this is business. The Raiders want a new stadium. Owner Mark Davis wants more revenue. A move to Vegas should satisfy those needs.
Still, the Oakland fans deserve better. They’ve stuck by the team over the last 15 years despite losses piling up. The stadium is a dump that leaks sewage, and yet the crowds continued to turn out. Now, the Raiders will bolt Oakland for the second time — Al Davis moved the franchise in 1982 before returning in 1995.
It’s a sad story for anybody who appreciates the Raiders and/or their history.
4. The Patriots have issues to figure out before playoffs
New England had everything break its way on Sunday, but all is far from right for the Patriots.
Tom Brady has begun to look his age this season. At 41 years old, Brady is playing like a mortal surrounded by equally mortal talent. Against Buffalo, the legend went 13-of-24 for 126 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. The performance was rendered a footnote in victory, but it matters moving forward. Brady hasn’t looked right, and the team isn’t good enough to mask that.
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For years, the Patriots have won or ample reasons. They’re creative. They’re smart. More than anything else, they’re better. In 2018, only two of those tenets hold true.
5. Adam Gase earned his pink slip against Jaguars
The Dolphins found a way to lose 17-7 to the Jaguars on Sunday. With the defeat, Miami is officially eliminated from playoff contention. Additionally, questions will start being asked nationally about Adam Gase.
Gase is finishing his third season in Miami. The Dolphins made the playoffs in his maiden voyage before going 6-10 and now 7-8 with a game at Buffalo remaining. Upon his hire, the notion was that Gase would get the best from Ryan Tannehill. That hasn’t happened, with Tannehill being protected by playcalling, such as Miami’s third-and-9 draw play in Indianapolis with the game on the line three weeks ago. On Sunday, Tannehill ended all hope with a brutal pick-six to Telvin Smith.
In South Beach, the expectations were that Gase would have a similar impact as Matt Nagy has enjoyed in Chicago or that Sean McVay has had in Los Angeles. It’s been a clear a failure to this point.
The only question is whether he gets one more year to prove himself.
The Browns and Bengals have long, intertwined history. After Cleveland fired head coach Paul Brown following the 1963 season, Brown became the founder of Cincinnati in 1967. Once the Bengals merged into the NFL from the American Football League, the two began tenants within the AFC Central.
Beyond that, Cincinnati and Cleveland have always shared a black and orange color scheme. In the beginning, it was borderline impossible to tell the teams apart on first glance.
Incredibly, the teams have only made the postseason twice in the same campaign (1982, 1988). The franchises have never played each other in the playoffs, and both are still looking for their first Super Bowl titles.
The NFL has to fix the officiating.
Every week, it feels like the zebras are part of the story. This must be addressed this offseason between the owners and the competition committee. Bad calls are always going to be made. Rules will always need tweaking as the game adjusts to new schemes and ideas. All that is fine.
What isn’t fine is borderline fouls being called. There are already enough penalties in the name of safety. Nobody wants to see a player hurt, and so let the flags fly when a dangerous hit is levied. Don’t let the flags fly when a cornerback lays a glove on a receiver or on every single special teams snap.
There were myriad examples of blown calls on Sunday that may have determined playoff races. In New Orleans, Joe Haden was whistled for a fourth-down pass interference penalty in the end zone. Alvin Kamara, the intended receiver, had no chance to catch the ball.
In Philadelphia, the Eagles’ game-winning drive was buoyed by a questionable roughing the passer call against Jadeveon Clowney.
Essentially, the NFL is the entertainment business. Fans don’t want to see the officials. They don’t want to know their names. They don’t want them as a main storyline. They sure as hell don’t want to feel like the officials determined the outcome.
The league has a problem. Time to fix it.